CCCChicago 2006

In asking a few CCCChicago-goers what they think about academic conferences, and in particular Big Conferences, I've heard a few times that the best thing is the chance to see people. The refrain is a familiar one: it's not the talks and meetings so much as the chance to reconnect, make new friends, and attach faces to names. This was certainly true for me at CCCChicago 2006, though I managed to ingest some good presentations, sights, and comestibles.

(click all images for big versions)

A couple of years ago I started bringing my folding bike (well, one of my folding bikes) to conferences, and in Chicago the bike was particularly fun to have. I rode in the mornings, mainly— along the lake, through various neighborhoods, back-and-forth between my hotel and Whole Foods—and all the riding helped me process the social and intellectual input.

On bike around town and on foot at the conference resulted in

Metaspencer's Best Of CCCChicago 2006

Best Bike Ride:
Wednesday afternoon, after settling into hotel-1 and finding I had no obligations until the evening, a long ride north along the lake shore, then cutting back through various northern neighborhoods, and back to downtown. Chicago is a great cycling city with plenty of gritty biketivists.

Best Sculpture Wearing Glasses:

Funniest Presenter:
Cheryl Glenn during and after her talk about silence and rhetoric. This was a great talk for many reasons, but since the award is for humor, I should explain that Cheryl gets this award for her exquisitely dry delivery.

In case you missed this panel, Glenn made arguments for silence as a productive and active participatory tactic/role in conversation and interchange, and thus instrumental in rhetoric as social activity and knowledge creation (oh: also conflict resolution and collaboration). In addition, there was a nice recognition that silence is often an active element in rhetorical expressive arts, some of them bodily (here she turned to the example of last year's International Women's Day protests). This was a great talk and a synergetic panel.

Hottest, Stuffiest, Most Oxygen-Deprived Room:
Jean Ferguson Carr, John Peterson, Susan Miller, and Melissa A. Goldthwaite's panel on "emotional work" and composition. I stood in the back through much of this, swaying, sweating, and then getting periodically banged on the back by the door (that kept opening and closing throughout the presentations). As a result I think I only partially caught what was being said. Carr's talk was neat, or perhaps I should say my oxygen-deprived interpretation of her talk was neat, as it came out of her recent book (I'm guessing), a project about 19th-century writing text books, and confirmed my theory that reading 19th-century texts to an audience brings about laughter 98% of the time. (Aside: This award could alternatively be called "panelists and audience members with the most tolerance for sweat and overcrowding"—as it seemed everyone kept in good spirits though jammed into such a hot and stuffy room.)

(Aside: if I ever plan a conference, it will be outside.)

Most Bloggers in One Physical Place Award:
Blogging SIG meeting on Friday eve, hosted graciously and instructively by Clancy and Mike. I think we may have all been a bit worn down by the time of the meeting, but it was a good session and moved, I think, in ways that will publicize and complicate research and practice relating to using blogs in the classroom.

While I plan to post more on this topic (here and possibly elsewhere), I should note that my own interest in writing and talking about blogs as pedagogical tools is waning. This is not to say that I don't think teaching with and about blogs is productive, and I certainly plan to continue to bring blogs into my classes when it seems useful, but I'm currently like way more interested in 1) the architectural rhetoric of blogs as technological writing template.appliances, and 2) the study of how new concepts emerge through blog-action/interaction using such writing tools.

Best Dinner:
A steaming bowl of hoppin' john at Wish Bone with BP, KE, and Brian Ballentine who offered a smart critique of Lessiginian support for ©-crushing. Not at dinner, but in his talk, Brian used an example of textual recirculation with a difference (tweaked code) that led to a major medical screw up. This reminded me of a post or paper (not sure which yet) I've been wanting to work up critiquing a related but different portion of Lessig's rhetoric (which I think mis-characterizes forms of appropriation relating to anti-capitalist art).

Worst Lunch:
That tired salad I carried around in my bag all day on Thursday and only had a chance to eat at about 4:30. Academic conferences may be too little about food.

Most Productively Complex Talk:

Patricia William's televisually-echoed big-ballroom lecture. Working from the simple typed page (no film here, no Powerpoint, no podcast—just a woman reading a text to a crowd) Williams collaged together:
  • a roving critique of compu-culture and compu-life, characterizing new technologies as inhibiting rich interpersonal connections. Here she described her law students sitting behind their tipped-up screens imputing notes while she lectures, and through that critique gained traction to move

  • to a discussion of genetic profiling and the commodification of Ivy League human eggs. There were many un-revealed warrants in her discussion, but the fever pitch of her possibly paranoiac views helped her move into two other topics that worked to characterize 2005:

  • a personal narrative of disassembly and being forced to sell her family home. This then precipitated a parallel story about moving her father into a nursing home and how that denaturing at first ruined his cultural practices (mainly sartorial), and

  • a meditation on the recent depopulating of New Orleans, complete with a prognostication that oil rigs will extractively loom where neighborhoods once nourished the landscape.

While KE remarked over that yummy dinner (mentioned above) that she "wasn't sure what to do with [William's lecture]," I felt I was already doing things with it as, as a complex text defined by the poetic fragment, Williams composed for us possibility in writing, public address, the personal, complexity, and interwoven verbal collage. This is, of course, the kind of stuff Williams is so good at.

Fastest Reading:
Last to present on his panel and crunched for time, Geoffrey Sirc, clutching his paper before him, read at 90mph through a cascading set of ideas (poetically written: it's Sirc after all). He read and read and read like a blast of Sircian air blowing hard into the conference, drying up the recesses of CCCC that still call for "clarity!" and the other tired mantras of the service-writing classroom.

90 mph, 90 mph came that wind, first forming descriptions about 1960s minimalist sculpture from which, in characteristic fashion, he pulled a concept—serial syntax: a syntax which focuses on attention to the element, the cut, the part ... not the larger constructed whole—which allowed him to then move into comp.history (Kitzhaberian) to move, once again, (90 mph, 90 mph) to an argument in favor of sublimity over persuasion (or maybe sublimity in addition to persuasion) as illustrated by the serial syntax of the mix tape and its successor the playlist. Fast fast fast the wind is blowing. And we tracked him, in and out of example and idea to watch the project unfold that he's labored on for years now: to reinvent the tired landscape of the writing classroom.

Best Bird of the Conference:
Though I scoped some lovely grebes bobbing around in Lake Michigan (I hazard to say that they were Clark's, but I'm never completely certain when it comes to making Greater/Clark's designations—esp. w/out binos), and a Barrow's Golden Eye or two, and some feisty urbanerific White-crowned Sparrows scratching out a living in Millennium Park, the Best Bird of the Conference Award goes to this little Cardinal, singing its heart out before the edifice of Sears Tower.


  1. Great post. I love the part about Sirc especially.

    As for conferences being too little about food -- conferences are what you make of them, right? You know, extracurricularly that is.

    For some, it's about how many people they can meet and visit with. For you, it's about touring around on your bike. For me, it's about squeezing in as much good art and good food as I can.

  2. Anonymous8:19 AM

    true True TRUE. But! I was thinking more about trays of muffins being passed around at each session, The Burrito Station being added to the Book Exhibit, and each presenter being presented with a fresh smoothy.


  3. Damn! I'm coming to your conference; let me know when it is or how much I contribute to make it happen at some point. Love the burrito idea. I think we should add to the book exhibit yoga or massage stations, among other things.

  4. I wanted to make a notation on a portion of Patricia Williams talk at the 4C's, and Spencer correctly pointed out that it's a prognostication and not "fact." The idea that oil rigs will be placed in the Ninth Ward in New Orleans is nothing more than rumor at this point, considering that if there were oil there, companies would have gotten to it years ago.

    What is more likely is that companies are looking to locate their operations like refineries in devestated areas post-K, and like most places, the poorest sections are the most vunerable. It is important to distinguish bw the oil rigs in the Ninth Ward and other industrial corporations setting up shop there because historically refineries are MORE dangerous than oil well as well as environmentally racist.

    I told Patricia Williams after the talk about this, just so she was aware of
    it, but I am concerned that if the wrong ideas start circulating, it will look like academics are creating fiction and lead to even more indifference to what's been
    happening to nola. I'll be honest, the 9th ward is completely fucked up from the break in the canals and levees out there. Houses are pushed off of their slabs and sit in the middle of the street. Cars are still on top of houses and the mold, oil and sewage smell is worse than the puke, piss, and beer smell of Mardi Gras.
    I was home last week, and it's always sickening when I realize the first thing I do when I'm home is look for the water line on buildings.

    We need to continue talking about what happened in nola - there were so
    many fuck-ups it's impossible not just to sit down and cry - but if we do, we
    have to resist the iconography of towering oil rigs over poor people. It's why I asked her about how do we deal with a culture that's constantly repeating that it's "time to move on" and not acknowledge what went wrong. When she said that everyone knew the levees in Nola were in danger, that's true. But it's similar
    to the idea that everyone knows that teaching grammar is the way to be a better writer and everyone knows that there's no racism today because blacks don't have their own water fountain and there ain't no place to pee on Mardi Gras day.

    Most of all, not much of anything is being done in New Orleans, and that's the problem. But for me, it's home.

  5. Thanks, Lei Lani. It's so odd that Williams "went there" in her talk, as I'm not sure what she was trying to prove with such dooms-daying. But I'm thankful for your clarification. (Also: great seeing you at the conference!)

  6. Well, I sold my Silver Birdy a few months back (http://www.birdy.com.au/birdy_silver_classic.htm) and currently ride a vintage folding Raleigh.